In 2007 I visited Kenwood House, With Elizabeth McGrath and Avinash Kumar Puri. They showed me the exhibition Dido Elizabeth Belle: Slavery and Justice. The legacies of Dido Belle and Lord Mansfield. The now famous painting, by possibly David Martin, with Dido and Lady Elizabeth Murray, was on display in the exhibition.
Kenwood house is closely connected to the history of the slave trade. Its links are traces through the lives of two very different people who lived here in the 18the century. The 1st Earl of Mansfield was Kenwood’s onwner and England’s most powerful judge. He made a famous ruling in 1772, which was interpreted by many to mean that slavery had no legal basis in England.
Dido Elisabeth Belle was Lord Mansfield’s illegimate great-niece. Dido’s father was John Lindsay, nephew of Lord Mansfield and Maria an enslaved African/ West Indian woman. Lord and Lady Mansfield had no children of their own, but raised both Dido and another great-niece, lady Elizabeth Murray, daughter of the future 2the Earl, David Murray. The two cousins grew up together at Kenwood from the 1760s to the 1780s.
Maria (c 1746-after 1781), Dido’s mother, was in London with her husband. Mr Bell in 1774 and was recorded as ‘free’ before moving to Pensacola Florida, where St John, Dido’s father, gave her a piece of land.
I was very lucky to see the very unusual painting, with the two nieces, it in 2007 in Kenwood House. See for more
An impression of Kenwood House in 2019.
From Kenwood: A view on London city
Inside the house:
Masterpieces (the famous Rembrandt selfportrait was away for an exhibition)
Information from Kenwood, The Iveagh Bequest. (Laura Houliston and Susan Jenkins)
The folder of the exhibition Slavery and Justice in Kenwood
And the BBC series Fake or Fortune 2018.
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